One of the questions I am asked most often, as a dyslexia advocate is, “Why do I need an independent evaluation when the school has already conducted their own testing?” There is no one answer to this question, but it is an important question to ask.
First, schools cannot diagnose. The assessments schools conduct are simply used to determine eligibility for special education and, if eligible, the appropriate services for that student. The school, however, cannot tell you whether your child has dyslexia. For that, you must hire a specialist.
So who CAN provide you with a diagnosis of dyslexia? According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), “Professionals with expertise in several fields are best qualified to make a diagnosis of dyslexia. The testing may be done by a single individual or by a team of specialists. A knowledge and background in psychology, reading, language and education are necessary. The tester must have a thorough working knowledge of how individuals learn to read and why some people have trouble learning to read. They must also understand how to administer and interpret evaluation data and how to plan appropriate reading interventions.”
There are evaluators who will provide you with a report that includes a diagnosis along with robust recommendations based on well-supported evidence and observation — this information can then be used to gain insight as to how to best service and support your student. However, on the other hand, there are evaluators who may not fully understand dyslexia or how to diagnose it. Unfortunately, evaluators who do not have experience with dyslexia may not conduct the appropriate tests to identify it, which may result in lost time for your child.
So, why is it so important to find the right evaluator? Well, since the assessments that evaluators, typically neuropsychologists, conduct to determine a diagnosis cannot be repeated within a one-year timeframe, it is vitally important that the evaluator you choose is well-versed in dyslexia, knows what to look for, knows what tests to administer and can provide robust recommendations so you, your advocate and the school will know exactly what your child needs to be successful. If the evidence and/or recommendations are meager or worse, non-existent, the school is left with little guidance as to how to best service or place your student and you will have to wait an entire year to repeat those tests. Not to mention, your advocate may not have the evidence he or she needs to properly defend the diagnosis in a Team Meeting.
It can be also quite costly to obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE) — upwards of $3,000-$5,000 for a good one. As hard as it may be to pay for the IEE out of pocket, 9 times out of 10 you will get a much better report if you do. Although it can be a hard to decision to choose private pay when your insurance may cover all or part of the IEE, I have yet to see a robust report come from a provider who accepts insurance for an independent evaluation. That is not to say that they are not out there, but they are not the norm from my experience. Keep in mind that if you don’t feel your child received a good report, you may find it necessary to pay out-of-pocket for another evaluation anyway, which means that you child will lose valuable time and will have to repeat the evaluation process again.
This is why I say that getting a diagnosis is only part of the reason you should consider getting an independent educational evaluation. That report is one of the foundational elements upon which service and placement decisions are based, so it is arguably one of the most important investments you can make for your struggling student.
At this point, you might be wondering how you go about finding a good neuropsychologist. If you choose to work with one, your dyslexia advocate will most likely have a list of professionals they frequently work with and recommend. You can also reach out to your state Decoding Dyslexia chapter to find a list of professionals that they refer to as well.
Once you choose the evaluator you wish to work with, the two most important assessments I look for with regard to identifying dyslexia are the CTOPP-2 [Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing] and the GORT-5 [Gray Oral Reading Tests (Fifth Edition)]. I highly recommend requesting that your evaluator include these assessments in their overall battery of tests.
Once you have a well-supported IEE in hand, you and the school will know exactly what your child’s needs are, so I can’t stress enough just how important this investment is in your child’s future success in school.